Hamline’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ head coach loves what he does

Photo by Charles Hallman Charles “Chip” Taylor coaching the Pipers

All nine Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) head football coaches from 2018 are back on the sidelines in 2019. This is the first time in four seasons that the league, now celebrating its 100-year anniversary, did not have any head-coaching turnovers.

Charles “Chip” Taylor is in his fourth season as Hamline head football coach. His Pipers might be the MIAC’s youngest squad this season, and perhaps the youngest in Taylor’s tenure at the St. Paul school, with only eight members each in the junior and senior classes alongside 30 freshmen and 13 sophomores.

The early-season question is how quickly these newcomers will adjust to college football this fall. With just eight returning starters (six offense, two defense) from last season, big gaps will need to be filled on both sides of the ball this season. The returnees include 5’-9” sophomore kick returner and wide receiver Triston Thomas (Kissimmee, Fla.) and 5’-11” junior cornerback Adrian Cracolici (Phoenix, Ariz.).

“Our team has changed a lot since I’ve been here,” Cracolici stressed. He led Hamline with nine tackles, a fumble return, and a pass breakup in last Saturday’s 31-27 win at Macalester in the annual Paint Bucket game.

The Hamline-Macalester crosstown rivalry is one of the oldest in college football, and last weekend was the 118th meeting. The Pipers (1-1, 0-0 MIAC) snapped a two-game losing streak in the annual non-conference contest and won the “Bucket” for the first time since 2016, Taylor’s first year as head coach.

“I’m excited going into year four,” Taylor told me before the season. “Guys are coming out and working hard. They want to be coached and have good attitudes. I’ve got some guys who will play a lot of football for us.”

The MIAC’s only Black head football coach and the only Black head coach currently at a Minnesota college or university fully understands that building a competitive program isn’t easy.  “You can’t control kids quitting for financial [reasons] or kids being homesick,” Taylor explained. “We had a big recruiting class in 2018, and the majority of those kids stayed. 2019 — that recruiting class — all of those guys are here.”

But Taylor is “super excited” about Thomas: “Comes from a good family. Does a great job in the classroom. And he is a good football player. He’s one of those players in the 2018 class who played a lot [last season].” Thomas had a touchdown, 116 yards on nine catches, and added 39 return yards against Macalester.

The coach is also high on St. Paul’s Terrell Jones, a 5’-10” freshman running back from St. Agnes. He caught two passes last Saturday for 27 yards and amassed 76 kick-return yards. “Good attitude,” Taylor said of him. “He will do a good job for us,”

“Being a head coach is like being the Wizard of Oz,” Taylor joked of his first head coaching experience. He was named Hamline’s coach in 2016 after three seasons as the Pipers’ defensive coordinator and has been in college coaching since 2003. “They knock on your door not to see how you are doing, but they need something.”

He nonetheless takes the bad with the good: “Things get a little bit tougher [as head coach], but I’m still in charge,” Taylor said.

Hamline begins MIAC play this weekend at home vs. St. Thomas, Saturday afternoon, 1:10 pm. “It is a blessing to be a head coach,” Taylor concluded. “I’m ecstatic.”